US military spends $155M for the nucleus of future wireless networks

Wireless IP Network development has been underway throughout the Department of Defense for about 10 years but MAINGATE's goals are to take that research up a notch

The central component to the US military's bulletproof IP wireless network strategy is now in place. Raytheon this week was awarded $24.4 million of what could end up being a $155 million contract to develop the key technology, known as MAINGATE, that will link disparate military wireless networks.

MAINGATE, or the Mobile Ad hoc Interoperability Network GATEway is a key cog in a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project the agency calls the next generation of its Network Centric Radio System (NCRS) that will ultimately connect different tactical ground, airborne and satellite communications terminals together.

Inside the bad-ass world of military research projects

Wireless IP Network development has been underway throughout the Department of Defense for about 10 years but MAINGATE's goals are to take that research up a notch by letting heterogeneous groups of radios be integrated into a heterogeneous network tolerant to high latency and packet loss, DARPA said.

The technologies developed for the program will permit affordable, tactical, real-time, high fidelity video, data, and voice services to be deployed in a networked environment to support tactical operations in either maneuver or dismounted operations. As a result of this effort, DARPA expects a clear demonstration of advanced mobile ad hoc network (MANET) gateway technology that will incorporate a Wireless IP-capable Network, which provides interconnectivity between nodes bridging heterogeneous mixtures of radio networks. A unique characteristic of the MAINGATE program is the integration of a "default" IP radio network as part of the gateway, DARPA said.

For its part, Raytheon said MAINGATE lets legacy analog and digital communication systems to be networked. The architecture of the system is designed to overcome the limits of most networking systems in use. It allows for many users to join the network at the same time and enables more than 30 different military and civil radios to communicate with one another while concurrently providing a high-capacity, mobile network.

The system has myriad requirements as you might imagine. For example, it must support a minimum of 20 simultaneous 384 kbps video streams, as well as voice and data applications, peer-to-peer applications, such as CHAT), and network management for aggregate per link data rates ranging from 6.5 Mbps up to 100 Mbps, DARPA said. DARPA said MAINGATE will consist of a WAN port, a LAN port, and six legacy radio ports. One or more of the six module slots can be used for a LAN extension kit to enable the interconnection of multiple LANs.Each LAN will support a 10/100 RJ45 connection.

The gateway must be able to bridge across multiple LANs such as SATCOM and 802.11g and associated addressing and transport capacities, DARPA said. Protocol translation and encapsulation will be necessary to make attached device data streams compatible with the LAN architecture. Each WAN will support a 10/100/1000 RJ45 connection or any specific connection necessary for accessing the Global Information Grid (GIG).

Similar to the LAN, protocol translation and encapsulation will be necessary to make WAN attached device data streams compatible with the WAN architecture, such as Border Gateway Protocol.

Aside from the technical specs, the goal for the cost of the MAINGATE node is $60,000 per unit for a volume purchase of 1,000 units. A MAINGATE node consists of the gateway, MANET IP radio, WAN port, LAN port, and operator console. This does not include the cost of the individual external radios or the cost of legacy radio kits.

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